What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term that covers a spectrum of disorders, referring specifically to conditions that affect a person’s ability to think clearly, act responsibly, and remember the most basic things. In this guide, we look at the prevalence of dementia in the United States, before discussing the symptoms, treatments, and more.

How Common Is Dementia?

Dementia is a very serious condition and it’s also very common, with around 10 million new cases being diagnosed every single year. As a 65-year-old, your odds of getting dementia are about 1 in 14, and these increase to 1 in 6 for over 80s.

This means that dementia is much less prevalent than cancer, but just like cancer, it’s a disease that can strike at the heart of a family, leaving brothers, sisters, spouses, children, and grandchildren traumatized and affecting the memories they have of their loved ones. 

Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and the condition that people are the most familiar with. It causes a rapid deterioration of mental faculties, initially impacting short-term memory and causing confusion. Eventually, it will progress to a stage where the patient has very little understanding of who they are, where they are, and what they are doing.

The second-most common form is known as Vascular Dementia, whereby the vessels supplying blood to the brain become damaged. Vascular Dementia impacts problem-solving, concentration, and memory. Other types include Lewy Body Dementia and Frontotemporal Dementia.

What are the Signs of Dementia?

Dementia is a progressive disorder, which means the symptoms may worsen over time. However, it’s worth noting that many of the early symptoms can be attributed to part of the aging process.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for seniors to have short-term memory problems. In fact, many younger adults have the same issues, and when you add insomnia and certain medications to the mix, the problems become more pronounced.

If you are worried that your partner or parent is forgetting more than they usually do and seems to be struggling with basic tasks, consult with your doctor. Some of the symptoms to look out for include:

  • Early Stages
    • Losing track of time
    • Getting lost in familiar places
    • Being forgetful
  • Middle Stages
    • Forgetting recent events and the names of loved ones
    • Getting lost in their own home
    • Struggling to communicate
    • Undergoing strange behavioral changes
    • Struggling to maintain personal hygiene
  • Later Stages
    • Being completely unaware of the time and their location
    • Struggling to walk
    • Being unable to recognize loved ones
    • Requiring assistance with basic needs
    • Becoming more aggressive and irritable

What are the Risk Factors of Dementia?

Despite the prevalence of dementia, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this disease. Age is the only known risk-factor, although roughly 9% of cases occur in individuals under the age of 65.  

It’s also believed that regular exercise and healthy eating will reduce the risk, while smoking, alcohol abuse, and high blood pressure will increase it.

Mental stimulation could be key, as well. For instance, it’s believed to be less prevalent in individuals with mentally stimulating careers and advanced educations, as well as those who have large friendship circles and regular social interactions.

In other words, while many people assume that dementia is just down to bad luck, there are dietary, lifestyle, and environmental factors. In fact, just like cancer, it’s a little bit of everything, and while you can’t guarantee protection against the disease, you can improve your chances. 

Can Dementia be Treated?

Dementia cannot be cured or reversed. Treatment is about providing support and ensuring the patient is as comfortable as possible while treating co-morbid conditions. For instance, a healthcare professional will aim to provide a patient with adequate care services, while prescribing medications to help with conditions such as chronic pain and insomnia.

Their symptoms can be monitored to track the progression of the disease and ensure they are adequately treated every step of the way.

Many family members, including spouses and adult children, often assume the role of caregiver when assisting someone who has dementia. However, this is often only practical during the early and middle stages. As the disease continues to progress, a higher level of care is required, and this goes above and beyond what an untrained family caregiver can provide.

At this point, it makes sense to consider skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes, both of which have memory care units specifically designed to assist patients dealing with late-stage dementia. Not only does this take the burden of responsibility away from struggling family members, but it ensures the patient gets the best possible care.